401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Customer-Centricity: Going “Back to the Brand” Is NOT the Answer

RevenueJournal-LookingIntoMirror[1]As the blogosphere obsesses over customer centricity, there’s a contrarian school of thought that goes something like this: “It’s impossible for a company to be customer-centric, because customers have too many individual demands, and all those demands cannot possibly be satisfied.” One writer suggested it is time to “go back to the brand” and focus on what the company wants to accomplish.
In other words, do what you do naturally! Do what you’ve always done! Do what you love to do: Make it all about you!

Terrible advice.

First of all, it’s a total lie that “customers have too many individual demands.” Thousands of conversations with my clients’ customers (and other great research, such as the “top website tasks” studies conducted by Gerry McGovern) have convinced me  that customers have always have top five needs in common.

Second, and significantly, these top needs can always be met by the company’s managers. I know this because I have helped hundreds of clients learn what these needs are and then meet them. They are never, ever impossible. Not even close.

Customers don’t expect the impossible – they expect the company to be reasonable about everything. That’s all.

Bottom line: Meet these top needs, and you will be a “customer-centric” company. 

So what’s the real reason this doesn’t happen? Because company managers don’t know what those top needs are. They think they know. They decide what customer top needs are (or ought to be), then talk endlessly about those needs amongst themselves. Never being exposed to anything else, they convince themselves that these assumptions are correct. They are wrong.

When a CEO brings me in, the first thing I hear is the company story, including what the top managers think is important to customers. It is a prioritized list. It always makes sense and sounds perfectly reasonable. The company’s managers have been making decisions based on this list.

Then I go out and interview their customers. They tell me what’s important to them. It’s a prioritized list. And is it ALWAYS different than the company’s list. So the decisions the managers are making are based on false assumptions and flawed data, which, of course, leads to flawed decisions. Decisions that drive customers away.

The best way to find out what your customers are thinking – and what future customers want from you – is to ask your current customers what that they think and what they want. That’s the straightforward path to customer-centricity. You won’t find the answer looking within. The answer isn’t there.


  1. Hi Kristin, I agree.

    Going back to the brand is a terrible advice.

    Besides the great advice you gave (and that I use) I would add one more:

    – work with (or study) Direct Marketing Copywriters.

    Good Direct Marketing that produces results, is based on the customer.

    The product is just the vehicle to arrive to the core of the customer desires/wants/problems.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. Hi Kristin,
    Thanks for putting the record straight. I am a customer advocate, and for me it is not a question of moving from brands to people, but rather to brands AND people.
    I believe the buzz around customer centricity – and I make a lot myself – is that many businesses are still forgetting the importance of their customers, especially in today’s connected world. Asking them what they want will go some way, but it is understanding not what they say they want, but what they mean when they say what they want. This is the solution to really delighting and surprising customers.
    As I like to remind my clients “There may be customers without brands, but their are no brands without customers”.
    People make brands not companies; would you agree?

  3. Hi, Denyse.

    Actually, my take on branding is that “branding is the promise that you make; your brand is the promise that you keep.” Since the people you keep the promise WITH and FOR are your customers (and anyone else who interacts with your company), obviously I agree with you. It’s their experience that determines your real brand.

    The brand statement customers make and pass on to others, based on what I’ve learned in interviews, is, “They’re real good at this, but not so good at that.” This phrase – which all current customers will state, often using the exact same words – identifies nicely your strength and weakness, and gives you the beginnings of your roadmap to higher revenue. You know what is working (which should be promoted, using the customers’ own words) and what is broken (and should be fixed in the background). I help companies promote more effectively while fixing what is broken – so that weakness actually becomes another strength.

    I also think that you have five tools for keeping your promises: your product/service; your people; your policies; your passion; and your processes. In most cases, I find that the product is fairly competitive; the people are good but could be great with the right leadership; the policies and passion are fine if the original founder is not a jerk, and is still there (or someone who is just as passonate about customers is at the top). That leaves processes, which is where most companies – small and large – fall down. I help companies in all of these areas, but I learned early on that we must focus sufficiently on processes, or the other areas will continue to languish.

    Thanks for your comment, you are correct.


  4. Creating a customer centric business means setting forth certain expectations AND living up to them. What is your brand promise? If you can’t deliver that 100% of the time then you need to find one you can! Most customers aren’t going to make outrageous demands. Will you get one know and then, sure, but the majority of your audience is going to have a similar set of needs.


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